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The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

Eric Ries · 10 HN points · 13 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
Most startups fail. But many of those failures are preventable. The Lean Startup is a new approach being adopted across the globe, changing the way companies are built and new products are launched. Eric Ries defines a startup as an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This is just as true for one person in a garage or a group of seasoned professionals in a Fortune 500 boardroom. What they have in common is a mission to penetrate that fog of uncertainty to discover a successful path to a sustainable business. The Lean Startup approach fosters companies that are both more capital efficient and that leverage human creativity more effectively. Inspired by lessons from lean manufacturing, it relies on “validated learning,” rapid scientific experimentation, as well as a number of counter-intuitive practices that shorten product development cycles, measure actual progress without resorting to vanity metrics, and learn what customers really want. It enables a company to shift directions with agility, altering plans inch by inch, minute by minute. Rather than wasting time creating elaborate business plans, The Lean Startup offers entrepreneurs—in companies of all sizes—a way to test their vision continuously, to adapt and adjust before it’s too late. Ries provides a scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups in a age when companies need to innovate more than ever.
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>There are a few of these that don’t really feel like pivots to me.

Because no authority dictates the meaning of "pivot", it looks like the concept diverged and became wider:

- "pivot" as switching from a unprofitable or failed business idea to a profitable one. A "phoenix rising from the ashes" type of pivot often associated with startups that finally figured out the elusive "Product Market Fit" instead of shutting down. This seems to be the original meaning popularized in 2011 by Eric Ries "Lean Startup" book : https://www.amazon.com/Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continuous...

- "pivot" as any change in business focus whether the previous one was profitable or not.

rexf
That's a good point. I thought pivot meant "switching from a unprofitable or failed business idea to a profitable one".

In that sense, IIRC Netflix's founder had the early vision to offer streaming services (one day in the future), so it wasn't a pivot. It was part of the plan.

I mean he named his company "Netflix". Does that sound like DVD delivery? No, it sounds like inter(net) + flicks.

>Can anyone translate this into language I can understand?

(1) "classical competitive analysis" (Porter) would be basing business decisions on market trends.

(2) "experimentation" is what many of today's startups call "MVP minimum viable product" + "iteration", or "lean startup" popularized by Eric Ries[1].

So (1) would be more theoretical work in spreadsheets to model market size, risks, projected revenue, etc -- vs -- (2) would be start building something small in Javascript/PHP/C++ on AWS and keep iterating on features to see what "sticks"

The (2) experimentation is emphasized lately because cloud infrastructure like AWS makes software experiments very cheap and fast to test business ideas.

But (1) classical analysis is often the only choice especially for building physical products requiring upfront heavy capital investment. You can't "cheaply iterate" to build airplanes or launch a constellation of commercial communications satellites. You have to commit billions to build them first based on theoretical market projections and hope customers will buy it. E.g. both Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 were designed by working backwards from market data analysis. Neither had the money to iterate by having the factory build 10 different airplanes.

>What is the market for a paper like this? And why can't it be written in plain English?

Based on the author's bio, the primary "market" appears to be his PhD thesis advisors: https://www.rotman.utoronto.ca/Degrees/PhD/PhDStudentBios/Am...

The secondary market might be HN readers who have no impact on his academic career.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continuous...

Robotbeat
You kinda can “iterate cheaply” for SOME constellations. If your satellite can scale down to cubesat or smaller, it’s becoming feasible to iterate relatively cheaply.

I’m thinking of the space IoT startup Swarm (of radio space piracy infamy).

kiba
But (1) classical analysis is often the only choice especially for building physical products requiring upfront heavy capital investment. You can't "cheaply iterate" to build airplanes or launch a constellation of commercial communications satellites. You have to commit billions to build them first based on theoretical market projections and hope customers will buy it. E.g. both Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 were designed by working backwards from market data analysis. Neither had the money to iterate by having the factory build 10 different airplanes.

But this is exactly what SpaceX is doing? Ditto with Starlink.

jasode
>But this is exactly what SpaceX is doing? Ditto with Starlink.

No, not the same.

For SpaceX, Elon spent almost all of of his $160 million PayPal wealth on 3 failed rockets before the 4th finally worked. And that 4th successful rocket test only demonstrated a proof-of-concept and didn't have a real payload from paying customers. That's an example of R&D in physical materials not iterating cheaply like the software world.

For Starlink, some google search finds this: "Despite the heavy investment needed to build Starlink, the company's leadership estimates Starlink will cost about $10 billion or more to build"

$10 billion is not cheap to build/iterate.

Compare to the software world... Kevin Systrom building an iOS app for location check in (Burbn) and then pivoting to a different idea of photo filters (Instagram) is way cheaper than spending millions/billions on destroying rockets and launching satellites.

kiba
It is ten billion dollars to build the old system, but the individual satellites can be iterated over.

Ditto with Starship.

Yes, they are all more expensive than software, often much more so to iterate over, but fundamentally what SpaceX do is iterative development.

jasode
>, but fundamentally what SpaceX do is iterative development.

Yes, SpaceX and many other companies (aircraft companies, car companies, etc) also "iterate" ... but you're losing sight of the original question[1] that was ask by gp (Stratoscope) and the context of "iterative development" for this thread.

The author of the paper was trying to explain the difference between "classical analysis" vs "experimentation" to drive new business strategy.

Yes the companies forced to do "classical analysis" _also_ do product "experimentation/iteration". However, when the author breaks out "experimentation/iteration" as a separate type of "business learning", he's talking about Eric Ries' version of "fast & cheap iteration" and not SpaceX's slower more expensive iteration.

>It is ten billion dollars to build the old system, [...] Yes, they are all more expensive than software,

And these are the real-world financial constraints that bias "classical analysis" over cheap iteration of the author's two learning styles.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27232118

Since it’s not 100% obvious - the poster “eries” is a popular author and popularized the idea of lean startups, which currently has (4,636) reviews on Amazon and a 4.5 star rating:

https://www.amazon.com/Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continuous...

cactus2093
An odd way to summarize a career, especially because amazon reviews are notoriously low quality and almost everything has 4-4.5 stars. It definitely under-sells his achievements.
eries
Thank you, that's very kind to say.
tozeur
Eric is under appreciated in the same way Steve Blank is under appreciated. They were very early advocates of lean methodologies and customer development (now called finding “product market fit” by the cool kids and VCs who wanted to create their own term).
My $0.02, having been a PM for many years:

Read Cracking the PM Interview [1] (for an overview of the job, not the actual interview tips) and The Lean Startup [2] (for general philosophy).

35 is a great age for a PM, especially since PM's often start elsewhere -- maturity is a plus here. I'd say there are 3 main ways into it -- as an engineer, who starts to do PM-type stuff on a team where there's no PM. As a designer, who starts to do PM-type stuff on a team where there's no PM. Or as an MBA who has a good sense for engineering and design. Certifications generally don't mean anything -- communication and leadership skills, good judgment, experience and a proven track record are what matter. But all those things can be demonstrated in previous non-PM roles, in order to make the initial switch.

Also, if you want to be a PM then you'd better enjoy meetings, slides, people, and communicating & convincing all day long, day-in day-out. If those make you say an enthusiastic "yes that's me!" then jump right in. If not... you're gonna have a bad time...

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Cracking-PM-Interview-Product-Technol...

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continuous...

cheath
This is all great info. One additional note. The best way to become a PM is to just start doing the job.

Even if you're on a team with a PM already, offer to write a few of the specs. Or if there's no room to do that, then create a side project where you go through the product development process and show your work. Create sort of a portfolio that demonstrates your abilities.

justonepost
Pm is really about being customer facing (communication skills, understanding business needs), and being able to make insightful trade offs. Developers can write specs. Spec writing is a plus for pm, but not core.

My suggestion that the best way to crack pm other than comm skills is doing competitive surveys.

bredren
Also served as a pm for 5+ years.

I recommend you build and release your own product start to finish. This helps you get exposure to parts you got to avoid in your engineering role.

I see product management as a producer role which includes the successful release and iteration. This is best learned by doing and if you don’t have a team, you be the team.

muxator
> Also, if you want to be a PM then you'd better enjoy meetings, slides, people, and communicating & convincing all day long, day-in day-out.

Leave me in my room with my beloved keyboard! I can sense other likely-minded beings over the wire. No slides, no meetings, no politics. Only the austerity of code, measurements, technical merit.

oblio
It depends on what you want. If you want some sort of "purity of code", that's great.

If you want more (especially control), you'll never have it. Except for your side projects.

bitL
Technical co-founder with controlling equity is the role you meant, not side projects. Like most co-founders of big tech companies nowadays.
None
None
dasil003
Founders of big tech companies deal with politics on a level you can’t imagine.
bitwize
Asin actual, literal politics. As in, appearing before Congress to convince them why what's good for your company is good for America. And/or sending campaign contributions their way to help with the convincing.

But there's a lot of fun to be had between now and then.

matte_black
Don’t get carried away, most startups never rise to that level, even fairly big ones.
goodroot
Such a vision is a fallacy.
danielblazevski
No meetings, no politics? Lots a dev jobs have both don’t they, especially as you become more senior and/or want to drive change in how things are done.
neofrommatrix
Thank you for this. I appreciate it. I like collaboration and working with people to drive projects and get things done. As an IC who has been a tech lead (without direct reports), I haven't had a chance to demonstrate or learn a lot of leadership nuances, but I've recently moved to a scrum master role, and am learning a lot there. I'll definitely read up on the books you suggested. Thank you so much.
xab9
You can say it's none of my business, but may I ask you why would you like to change?
neofrommatrix
I cannot ask for advice and counter with a "none of your business" when asked questions. That's not how any of this works. Thank you for your question.

I can probably write an essay on this, but here's a TLDR version. I do like coding, and will definitely continue working on my side projects. Although programming pays quite well, I'm not sure of the long term payoffs of continuing as a programmer (unless you are one of the Linus Torvalds, or in a similar league - which I am no where close to).

Longer term: I do want to get to a point in my career where I would like to influence product strategy (focus on the whys) a s a VP of Product Management vs. VP of Engineering.

Having said that I do believe I have the skills to be a good PM. I will explore this, and if it's not the right fit, I can switch back.

If you have a completely different perspective, please let me know.

mrisoli
That's interesting, I find myself in a similar position.

I like coding and I like to improve my coding skills and knowledge, but I feel I am more of generalist than a specialist, I am always lurking around HN, PH, IH, looking at products, trying to always get a little bit more about product strategy, marketing, design and UX.

I have considered a transition into a PM role but I'm still not sure I'm quite ready to step away from the developer role, a part of me would like to have an awesome project that I could build my own company around but I'm just not there yet either.

Either way, I'll be lurking the responses in this thread. Good luck with your move.

xab9
This is cool, thanks! I myself am mostly okay with dev but I think communication is very important no matter where you are in the process.

Sometimes I feel that I can't influence the product even though I care for it - but then I grow bitter and start a job seeking cycle.

dcldcl
IME if you are going to product for the "money", I think in the long run you're more likely to be disappointed than hit VP of Product. There's just fewer spots in product vs engineering. I think it's much more driven by chance and other factors.

But from an overall career experience, it will likely open new doors for you. Whether those doors are the ones you want remain to be seen.

I also think the vast majority of PM roles are just implementing some Director/VP of Product's wish lists rather than doing much strategy on your own. And hopefully you encounter good product direction, but IME that's few and far in between. Moving up has been much more about adherence to the company's vision/politics than good products/tech.

Plus there's also the interesting dynamic of overall eng/PM relationship within a company. Those can vary from very good to pretty darn toxic.

I don't mean to discourage you from trying. I learned a lot of doing it... but I think it's a tougher path. Depends on your personality and interests. Often it's much more a people job than a tech job, even for very techy products.

To be fair, the product role is also much more varied from company to company (than eng). You may find a place where it is more about the tech and less about company politics.

My bigger question for you is are you at the stage of your (personal) life where you can afford to take a chance on your career. Switching back may not be as easy as you think... especially if you truly embrace the product side (and also depends on what part of tech you're in).

While it may be okay at your present company, IME it's very easy to end up in a wierdo trap of having your feet on two different ships heading in different directions.

I've also got some funny stories about engineering managers who think I've been infected by some disease due to my time in product.

Source: I started my career as engineering IC for several years, moved to product for several, and have now returned to engineering IC for several.

rahimnathwani
Other book recommendations for preparing to be a PM:

- Decode & Conquer

- Inspired (Marty Cagan)

- Radical Focus (about OKRs)

neofrommatrix
Thank you
None
None
ryan-allen
> Also, if you want to be a PM then you'd better enjoy meetings, slides, people, and communicating & convincing all day long, day-in day-out.

For me that's a huge nope, also it's why I love working with a good PM when you're a developer, they're like your partner in crime so to speak!

evolve2k
Can anyone recommend additional books on being a highly effective PM and managing ALL THE THINGS. Thx
mdgrech23
> Also, if you want to be a PM then you'd better enjoy meetings, slides, people, and communicating & convincing all day long, day-in day-out

I transitioned from dev to architect. This statement is so true, even more so for PMs.

Nashooo
Any tips for a dev aspiring to transition to architect?
lulmerchant
I’ve always understood that one of the most important pieces of the PM role is to act as a sort of negotiator between design/development and all other stakeholders. Customers and everybody else in the business all want their own things, and all have their own priorities. The good PMs that I’ve known have kept those people happy, managed their expectations well, and mostly shielded design/development from their demands and politics.
itronitron
35 is a good age as it increases the likelihood that the PM will have parenting experience which provides the benefit of improving expectation mgmt, negotiation, and communication skills to a non-technical audience.
wojt_eu
I've read how being responsible for family make employees plan their work better because they want to get home for the dinner, how it makes them more responsible or loyal – but that's the first time I hear about parenting experience directly affecting management skills. Some similarities are obvious now that I think about it – you want to help them grow and flourish. You set expectations and put boundaries while avoiding micromanagement and try not to spoil internal gratification with bribes. Well, except firing – you don't fire kids early due to lack of culture fit.
walterbell
Or the likelihood of developing these skills as a member of successful teams.
lulmerchant
Now that I think about it, a lot of the people I most enjoy working with in the office are parents, and the kind of parents who are obviously really good parents.
Forget about raising money right now. Build shit fast. Ship ship ship ship ship ship ship.

Read "The Lean Startup":

http://www.amazon.com/Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continuous-...

Well I don't have a MBA :D, but I do have a masters degree of a similar orientation (Masters in engineering management). I can only recommend the ones I have read and found of value:

[1] Crossing the chasm (Marketing related)

[2] Peopleware (HR related)

[3] How to win friends and influence people (HR related)

[4] The Goal (Business related)

[5] Critical chain (Project management related)

[6] Who moved my cheese (Change management related)

and any of the lean / agile businessy books for ex.

[7] The lean startup

These might not be viewed as traditional MBA material, but my course featured some of these along with more traditional academic books on subjects like financial management, people management, operations etc. I can provide these textbooks to you as well if you like.

*Amazon links just for convenience, no affiliation.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Crossing-Chasm-3rd-Disruptive-Mainstre...

[2] http://www.amazon.com/Peopleware-Productive-Projects-Teams-3...

[3] http://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Friends-Influence-People/dp/06...

[4] http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0884271951?keywords=eli%20g...

[5] http://www.amazon.com/Critical-Chain-Eliyahu-M-Goldratt/dp/0...

[6] http://www.amazon.com/Who-Moved-My-Cheese-Amazing/dp/0399144...

[7] http://www.amazon.com/Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continuous-...

It sort of depends on what you're asking for.

If it's around the business model, the easy answer is to point them to a book like http://www.amazon.com/The-Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continu... There are great techniques in there for how to do customer development -- at this point it seems like required reading for business/product folks.

If you're looking for more mockups, something like Balsamiq is a good starting point.

Is there something else you're looking for?

If you haven't red the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, run, don't walk to get it. He was basically writing the book to you.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continu...

As was I. But in the meantime, I've been reading the three books that Steve Blank has recommended in various interviews (citation needed):

- http://www.amazon.com/Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continuous-...

- http://www.amazon.com/Business-Model-Generation-Visionaries-...

- http://www.amazon.com/Four-Steps-Epiphany-Successful-Strateg...

I'd still love to know what was planned for the class, but these volumes have been valuable to me.

Just bought a (physical) Kindle; it has:

_Wolf Hall_ (http://www.amazon.com/Wolf-Hall-Novel-Booker-Prize/dp/080508...)

_Tree of Smoke_ (http://www.amazon.com/Tree-Smoke-Novel-Denis-Johnson/dp/0374...)

(I'm about halfway through both; I'm trying to get better about reading fiction).

_The Lean Startup_ (http://www.amazon.com/Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continuous-...)

(Having trouble getting myself propelled into this one)

_Imbibe!_ (http://www.amazon.com/Imbibe-Absinthe-Cocktail-Professor-Fea...)

(Probably the best book on booze ever written, my favorite thing I've read all year)

_Bitters_ (http://www.amazon.com/Bitters-Spirited-Cure-All-Cocktails-Fo...)

(The Atlantic liked this book, but I found it slight --- although we're going to make bitters from this book in our office, so maybe I'll appreciate it more later)

Finally, I didn't read this "recently", but I'll take the opportunity to STRONGLY RECOMMEND IT TO EVERYONE:

_Ideas in Food_ (http://www.amazon.com/Ideas-Food-Great-Recipes-They/dp/03077...)

This book blew my freaking head off. The authors are modernist ("molecular", gag) consultant/chefs with a very popular blog; the book adapts the stuff on their blog to home and professional cooking.

What's amazing about it is that they did such a great job translating modernist techniques not just to home kitchens but to home cooking, so that the same concepts that give you wanking spherification and foam dishes in restaurants give you hands-free bulletproof risotto at home. I could go on and on about this thing. It is simultaneously the geekiest and most useful food book I've ever bought. Own it immediately.

(Do audiobooks count? If so, add to the list _Thinking Fast And Slow_ by Daniel Kahneman, _Blood, Bones & Butter_ by Gabrielle Hamilton, and Caro's _Power Broker_).

wallflower
> (Probably the best book on booze ever written, my favorite thing I've read all year

Highly recommend:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0971958769

Dec 01, 2011 · thesash on Pivoting is really hard.
This is exactly the problem that makes the Lean Startup so interesting and radical. Everything we think we know about business has ingrained in us a sense of change equating to failure. We build up inflated expectations for our non-existant products and business models to employees, to investors, to friends and family, all the while ignoring the fact that all the assumptions on which we've based our businesses are just that, guesses. Then, when one or more of the assumptions is invalidated, we're so embarrassed about being wrong that we try to persevere even when we know we're on the wrong track, and then run full speed into the wall instead of changing course.

Eric Ries has some really insightful ideas about how to turn these problems around, and if you haven't already read The Lean startup I highly recommend it.

http://www.amazon.com/Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continuous-...

I've been at this exact same place. The best way you can prep for a 'web startup' is to leverage the skills you've got (javascript, java, html), and take action RIGHT NOW. [I've a feeling you know enough to get hacking on an idea, and learn along the way.]

We've no clue what the world would look like 2 years down the line. One thing we'd be certain of -- insane amounts of competition. The most important thing you'll learn right now is 'STARTING' with limited information. If you can couple that with an insane drive to 'COMPLETE', you'd be prepped & ready.

---------------

Since you mentioned 'web apps',

Get into action, the 'lean startup' way: [http://www.amazon.com/Lean-Startup-Entrepreneurs-Continuous-...]

- list a few target markets/niches you'd like to work with

- research them online/offline (forums, meetup groups etc.) & dig out their pain points

- build landing pages (unbounce.com) around your MAGIC SOLUTION to their problem

- get enough folks to sign up for your landing page (might cost you about 100$ worth of adspend)

- the inspiration you get from having actual folks that need your Magic Pain Solver would drive you to complete your product

- you'll relieve them of their pains by forcing yourself to build this ASAP, or you'd hire someone

- you'll have learned a ton about the essence of entrepreneurship through this experience

---------------

Basically, you're connecting a pain-point for an small-enough group of people, that communicates amongst themselves regularly (the market), to a transaction (business model).

And please, start Right Away.

keiferski
Thanks for the response. I actually have a ton of ideas and have done market validation. The problem I have is of implementation.
vga15
That's great. You're much more of an entrepreneur than I'd assumed.

Check out chapter 6 from 'Getting Real', by the folks at 37signals. [http://gettingreal.37signals.com/toc.php]

The problem I had starting out, was following an exact process for going from an idea to a Minimum Viable Product. Most importantly, I had trouble getting past my designs (PSD) being messy.

-----------

Since you have an idea already:

- figure out what features your minimum viable product should contain

- throw out a whole bunch of those features, till there's just a few main ones, and you feel a little uneasy

- turn those features into screens (paper mockups). as few as possible.

- go from paper mockups to PSD's (photoshop). use dribble, themeforest, forrst, etc. for inspiration. especially the 'minimalist' designs

- or you could just use one of the 'admin themes' from themeforest. or 'bootstrap' by twitter.

- chop the PSD to css/html. This is where it becomes (sorta) 'REAL'.

- since you know basic java, I'd recommend you use php (almost similar syntax, and tons of help online) to hack together your first app

//---EDIT---

I see you're interested in Rails. Personally, with history in c, c++, dotnet & java, rails just seemed a little 'off'. Since you're familiar with java, I'd highly recommend GRAILS: http://grails.org/ as a viable/quicker alternative to rails.

//---END EDIT---

- don't stress about languages and platforms just yet. I'd spent weeks trying to figure out which framework would make me sound more technically proficient to a third party(investor perhaps?). The right answer always is, whatever gets the job done ASAP.

- consider using facebook/twitter for user account management. makes a lot of stuff easier

----------

One thing I'd fix going back, would be rewiring my process to having the PSD chopped first(and played with), before writing any server-side code.

pge
This is great advice, but if it's too daunting right now to think about a market, just build something you would use. The experience of building anything is the best start. Then, as you start to get ideas on what product might ultimately be a business, you'll have a better sense of what is possible and how one might go about executing on it. Most of all, as others have said - start building something.
Sep 14, 2011 · 10 points, 1 comments · submitted by AndrewWarner
PStamatiou
Just got it in the mail yesterday, completely forgot I had preordered it a long time ago!
Thank you for that suggestion.

Here are the two books from that link..

Lean Startups by Eric Ries out mid-september

http://www.amazon.com/Lean-Startup-Eric-Ries/dp/0307887898

and

Little Bets by Peter Sims

http://www.amazon.com/Little-Bets-Breakthrough-Emerge-Discov...

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